Ethics Grand Rounds | The Ethics of Underfunding: Changing the Narrative about Native American Health Care

The Ethics of Underfunding: Changing the Narrative about Native American Health Care

Headshot of Mary Owen
Mary Owen, MD


There is a general misconception that Native Americans receive free health care. This talk dispels that notion and gives a short history and current status of the Indian Health Care system. Dr. Owen discusses the results of chronic underfunding of the Indian Health Service with a focus on the state and national impacts of COVID-19 on Native American populations.

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the Trust Doctrine and United States government obligation to provide health care to Native Americans
  • Understand the history and structure of the Indian Health Service
  • Recognize the long-term effects of chronic underfunding on the Indian Health Service
  • Recognize the impact of COVID 19 on Native American populations nationally and locally

This was an event of the Office of Academic Clinical Affairs (OACA) hosted by the Center for Bioethics and created in partnership by the following University of Minnesota units: the Medical School, the School of Public Health, the School of Nursing, and the Program in Health Disparities Research.


Mary Owen, MD, Director of the Center of American Indian & Minority Health; Assistant Professor, Dept. of Family Medicine & Behavioral Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth. Dr. Owen is a member of the Tlingit nation. She graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School and North Memorial Family Practice Residency Program before returning home to work for her tribal community in Juneau, Alaska. After eleven years of full-scope family medicine, she returned to the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth in 2014 , as the Director of the Center of American Indian and Minority Health (CAIMH).

Her work includes: developing and managing programs to increase the numbers of American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) students entering medical careers, outreaching to local and national Native leaders to ensure that CAIMH and the University of Minnesota Medical School remain in tune with AIAN health care and education needs, developing an AIAN track for all students interested in providing healthcare to AIAN communities and developing research efforts to address AIAN health disparities. She continues to provide clinical care at the Center of American Indian Resources in Duluth and is the current President of the Association of American Indian Physicians.